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Thread: A Review

  1. #1
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    A Review

    Jehane Noujaim: Control Room (2004)

    by Chris Knipp

    Roughly, another point of view

    Control Room gives a human face to Al Jazeera, a TV station unknown to most Americans (it broadcasts only in Arabic) and demonized by shills of the administration like Fouad Ajami in the New York Times Magazine and administration officials like Donald Rumsfeld. To see that several of Al Jazeera’s chief people are reasonable and articulate and not the least wild-eyed or rabidly anti-western or anti-American –- one of them, Samir Khader, even says he hopes to send his children to school in the US and would take a job at Fox News in a second if one were offered to him –- must be instructive for anyone with an open mind who watches this film. To see the invasion of Iraq briefly from the viewpoint of an informed Arab, as US press officer Lt. Josh Rushing also had occasion to do, must be an eye-opener for American viewers.

    Lack of initiative and organization behind the production however make watching Control Room somewhat frustrating. Like Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans it’s a documentary with terrific material that fell into less than brilliant hands. This isn’t by any means a thorough study of Al Jazeera or its coverage of the US invasion of Iraq. The film doesn’t give a complete picture either of Al Jazeera’s war coverage or of how it’s produced, and we get hardly a glimpse of what its other programming is like -– though it’s possible that in the Arab world it's not the news footage but the station’s international call-in discussion shows that are its most significant element, because they provide instant dialogue among the Arab peoples across thirteen nations -- a power of communication that one day may have untold impact.

    Lacking any striking organization, the film succeeds chiefly through the Al Jazeera folks’ willingness to talk to a US documentarian and being in a good place at a good time, just as Noujaim was for the Internet débâcle in StartUp.com . Not a world-class documentary, Control Room hasn’t a fraction of the structure and impact (and publicity) of Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11. But for Iraq-watchers, Bush-watchers, and media-watchers, it’s still a must-see. Merely placing an American camera inside the “control room” of Al Jazeera was, in itself, a radical act.
    (For the whole review, go to http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?t=327)

  2. #2
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    Good review, I read your complete review on your website, I agree it's a film that more people should see.

    Wish it had focused more on the structure of Al Jazeera, it seemed instead to mainly be documenting their coverage of the Iraq invasion.

    Again, this is another good opportunity to see the effort of the American military to control and manipulate information. All wars from now on are media wars, and they know this. It just occured to me that the "control room" could actually be the CentCom headquarters, not necessarily the Al Jazeera group. Maybe this was always more apparent to others and I'm just slow to pick it up.

    The unprovoked deadly attack on the Al Jazeera journalist in Baghad was probably the most jaw-dropping scene in the film. It's inconceivable how anyone could have issued the orders that resulted in that attack.

    Another thing I noticed in the film was the deep sense of frustration in some of the Al Jazeera people, one that seemed to lead to some strange allegiances. At the end of the film, a women interviewed there said something to the effect of "first we lose our friend (the t.v. correspondent), then we lose Baghdad, what else can we lose?". This apparent symapthy with the Saddam regime is somewhat curious, and such Arab unity is something that our policymakers haven't seemed to take into consideration.

  3. #3
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    Thanks for your favorable comments.

    Maybe all wars are and always have been media wars. The only difference now is more and faster technology.

    We agree that the depiction of Al Jazeera's programming was incomplete, not to say nonexistent, in Control Room. It might not have been so hard to show clips of some of the programs with an explanatory voiceover. Just a few viewings of Al Jazeera at a Palestinian friend's house and in a Cairo hotel room suggest to me that from a media journalism viewpoint, this is a station whose programming is very worthy of study and debate. Not to say that Noujaim and crew didn't do some hard work, but in some ways they took the easy path in their choice of material and their shooting schedule.

    a women interviewed there
    [one of the producers] said something to the effect of "first we lose our friend (the t.v. correspondent), then we lose Baghdad, what else can we lose?". This apparent symapthy with the Saddam regime is somewhat curious, and such Arab unity is something that our policymakers haven't seemed to take into consideration.
    You're right; our policymakers don't take this into consideration, and thus they proceed to create more and more enemies in the region. The "apparent sympathy" for Saddam's regime need not even be that, but it wouldn't be so "curious" if it were.

    There are many things that "we lose Baghdad" can mean to an Arab. First of all it is one of the great historical capitals of Islamic culture and it has been trashed: that's "losing" Baghdad, and that's not a "strange allegiance." From any Arab's point of view, this was a foreign invasion in the very heart of the Arab world. This wasn't any backwater like Yemen or Sudan. It's one of the most important Arab countries historically and contemporarily. And it wasn't Saddam who brought the country to a standstill, but the Bush I war of 1991 and the UN Sanctions. The country had made great progress since the Fifties prior to the first trashing it got in Operation Desert Storm. Un-PC though it may be to say it, Saddam wasn't all bad. And Arabs know that, just as they know that so many other Arab dictators were not all bad; and that chaos and destruction may be worse.

    Suppose it was Chicago...but I think you understand.

  4. #4
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    My impressions

    This was indeed a telling film. I found it superior to F911, less sensationalized at least.

    The revelation that I left with came from the reaction of the American and English journalists after the bombing of Al Jazeera and Abu Dabi. They knew instantly that it was bullshit, criminal activity and they immediately flexed all of the journalistic muscle that they were capable of to show the world what kind of bullshit was going on.

    Curiously, over here in the sphere of western influence, we heard nothing about these blatant attempts to destroy freedom of the press, these acts of aggression against the concepts of the first amendment.

    It became apparent to me that those who are responsible for the lies, half truths and propaganda that counts as news today are the ones administrating the networks and handling the reports that come from the front. Those employed in the war zone are doing a difficult and demanding job. I think that generally, field journalists value their integrity and do their best to report fairly.

    Raoul

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